Post-Conference Film and Discussion: That’s Not How I Remembered It
by Zishuo Wu
The Japanese film, Rashomon (1951), was introduced to the audience by Prof. Richard Davies in his film discussion titled, “That’s Not How I Remembered it.” With it being the first Japanese movie that made a splash overseas, Prof. Davies raised both cultural concerns and film-making thoughts for the audience. Then the movie was shown as the highlight of the event.
The film Rashomon illustrates one story from the perspectives of three individuals — a wandering monk, a woodcutter, and a beggar taking shelter under the gate Rashomon. A warrior and his wife pass through a barren mountain, and encounter an accident. The wife is insulted by a bandit and the warrior is murdered. There is only one truth, but in order to glorify their morality and mitigate their sins, they each tell a glorified version of the story. At the end of the film, the woodcutter found an abandoned crying baby by gate Rashomon, and decided to adopt the baby, so he carried the baby away into the sunset.
The marriage of the cinematography from the distinguished director, Akira Kurosawa (黒沢明, 1910-1998), and the sophisticated reflection to reality from the story written by the prestigious novelist, Akutagawa Ryunosuke (芥川龍之介, 1892-1927), left the audience impressed. For Director Akira, the film was a turning point in career as it won multiple awards internationally. Even he himself was surprised of its resounding success overseas.
After the film, we had the opportunity to listen to Professors Paul Anderer and Ni Yan’s the profound interpretation of the film. Prof. Paul J. Anderer, a Columbia faculty since 1980, has served the University as Chair of EALAC, as Director of the Keene Center, as Acting Dean of the Graduate School, and as Vice Provost for International Relations. His most recent book, Kurosawa’s Rashomon: A Vanished City, a Lost Brother, and the Voice Inside His Iconic Films (Pegasus Books/W.W. Norton, 2016) introduces his profound understanding of the film.
Surprisingly, as Prof. Anderer mentioned, he held no interest in Rashomon in his student years. When he studied Japanese movies and culture in the nation years later, that is when he realized the deeper meaning of the film, especially the post WWII trauma that was shown metaphorically in the film. He then shed light on the significance of the movie in his perspective.
Reflecting on the movie, Prof. Anderer introduced the shared characteristics in different narratives of the dead man and the raped woman. In the meantime, according to different witnesses, the change happens, reflecting on twisted memory of the realistic trauma of the war. Kurosawa directed many historical fictions based on different periods ranging from mid-age to modern history, with a twist to link with differentiated traumas. Kurosawa continued making black and white films for a long period, even when his peers had focused on color movies for awhile. Lastly, Prof. Anderer mentioned Kurosawa’s elder brother, who was a benshi, the narrative for silent films, whose tragedy might become the basis of the movie — at the age of 38, he and his lover committed a double suicide. Characters in Rashomon — The samurais who looked foolish, the woman who was hard but weak, were all characteristics of trauma, reflecting on both Kurosawa’s brother and the post-trauma society.
The second speaker was Prof. Ni Yan. She worked for the China Film Association after graduating from Tsinghua University in China before going to Japan. She is a visiting researcher at the Memorial Film Culture Foundation and an external lecturer at Waseda University, Keio University, Toho University, Hosei University, and Meiji Gakuin University.
Interestingly, she was also not very interested in studying Akira Kurosawa at first because he was so famous that her tutor said he was thoroughly studied. Prof. Yan first studied Oshima and wrote her first article about him even though she has seen almost all of Kurosawa’s films throughout the years. When she was invited by Professor Richard of Duke Kunshan to give a talk on the film, she revisited the film and shocked that it felt like she was seeing it for the first time! As her understanding of Japanese culture and Kurosawa deepened with a new understanding.
Prof. Yan then presented her talk titled Rashomon, Akira Kurosawa, China, and the World. Rashomon was not released in China initially because the CCP advocates? Banned? the image of workers, peasants, and soldiers at that time. The overseas films on show in China were mainly independent left-wing films, including Japanese films like Hakone Fuunroku (1952), whose producer included many members of the Japanese Communist Party. A film of Kurosawa, Ikiru (1952), was introduced but was narrated in a left-wing film and placed in the context of Chinese policy. Rashomon (italicize) was introduced in other communist countries during the Cold War, including Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, East Germany.
The worldwide influence of Rashomon, as Prof. Yan introduced, is abundant. Although not officially introduced in China, Rashomon has been shown inside the Chinese film industry practitioners. For instance, the Chinese director Zhang Yimou said to have admired this movie in Beijing Film Academy, 1979. Many of his works, including Red Sorghum (1987), whose rapid movement and aesthetics of light and shadow in the camera learned from Rashomon, indicate the influence of Kurosawa’s movies on his. Rashomon’s multi-point storytelling also influences overseas movies including the Last Duel (2021) and Bridge of Sighs (2020). The effects of Rashomon even included its methodologies of understanding the world and interpreting history and reality; it contributed to anthropology, oral history, interpreting historical materials, solving various difficult cases, and treating psychological diseases such as multiple personalities; Rashomon is a timeless textbook of life that transcends the fictions of time and art and intervenes in the real world.